I'll always remember my first trip to Mississippi, it was the spring of 1997. I was graduating from high school that year and had applied to various schools. My brother suggested I send in my application to Ole Miss. Who is Ole Miss? What is Ole Miss? The only thing I knew was that my brother played football for Ole Miss briefly and although he transferred back to a school in Texas to graduate there was obviously something special that this place left in his heart. Either he wanted me 700 miles away from home or he truly thought it was a place I needed to experience and make my own. Either way, applying is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.
My mom, my brother and I went to scope it out...we drove. It was far. The only thing I remember about the trip, other than being long, was making a comment my mom always reminds me of. As we drove up I-55 we passed this sign that said Kosciusko next right. I said, Koz-chi-u-sko....what the hell is that? Little did I know within the next 10 years it would be my home!
So we arrived into Oxford. It was night time and we were tired. My first 5 second impression of the town was that it was just alright, small (this was before the west side was developed as you enter town.)
The next morning we headed to the University. This would be my first time setting foot on campus, I still remember that moment all these years later - it was magical. It was lush green, well manicured with gorgeous bright colored tulips everywhere. You could tell the people that took care of this place really cared about it, they took pride in what they have. The air was so pure and fresh that I'm not sure I'd ever felt so alive. It could have been that it was a refreshing change from the 110% humidity of Texas. It doesn't matter what it was, it was memorable.
As we walked the campus it was as if the beautiful old buildings and architecture wanted me to stop and admire it, like it wanted to tell me a story about it's history. I couldn't help but be hypnotized by the beauty, the history, and the tradition this campus exuded. Every person we passed on the sidewalk said hello, all the people were smiling, friends were playing Frisbee in the Grove or having a picnic. It was a fantasy land, it was magical, happy, almost staged. It was surely something I wanted to be a part of and I hadn't even had the opportunity to talk to anyone about the academics. All of this was my first impression.
It started once I was accepted, I was in Texas putting the sticker on my car and sporting my new college t-shirts everyday. I was cool. People would say, what is O'le (Oh-le) Miss? I guess growing up in a highly populated Hispanic area / state they would read Ole as O'le. It was a little frustrating, but I didn't mind because I knew something they didn't. I knew about this magical place that I was going to be able to share about with everyone that didn't know.
A year and half after my initial visit and acceptance I was able to come back to Mississippi. I had been in Ecuador for a year following my high school graduation. I had no idea what tradition, history and pride was until August 1998. I came to a new foreign land, Mississippi, where I was to be taught about the true meaning of tradition. A place where not only would my education could carry me far in life, but the experiences and lessons learned would carry me even further.
My eyes were opened, I learned about the history, triumphs, and tragedy that the state and University had endured. I wasn't brought up in prejudice, I didn't understand the black and white of everything. It appalled me. The most important thing was that it was overcome. The University now stands on the grounds that diversity is key. Diversity, this one word is what prompted my post.
The University has a new Chancellor. I have not had the opportunity to research his back ground nor have I met him, so therefore I am unable to comment on him as a person. He has very large shoes to fill succeeding Chancellor Khayat. This week the new Chancellor decided that the traditional un-official fight song of 'Dixie' be banned from football games and not associated with Ole Miss anymore. Fans sing out that "The South will rise again."
Let's get literal for a moment, do you really think that the current students born in the 1990's truly know, sing or mean this as an offensive chant? Even still, their parents that were born in the 1960's didn't endure the 1962 integration of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. The generation before them did. This generation of alumni is now the University's largest monetary supporters. Even over 40 years after integration they continue to love Ole Miss not because of any racial reasons, but because of the tradition, experiences, family, and sense of pride that they feel. They support Ole Miss because every time they return to Oxford it's a replay of their first stepping foot on campus, it's a sense of ownership.
I was saddened when all the hoopla about Colonel Reb came about. I was not there in 1995 when they banned the Confederate flags. I am however savvy enough to research the history of both Colonel Reb and the flag. Colonel Reb was originally patterned after a blind black man that that was a huge football fan. Did you know that? I personally think it was respectful to him. As for the confederate flag, history proves that this was a battle flag, a flag in a war that blacks fought in too.
Why do we still have to make these things so black and white? I see these things as red and blue. I think by taking away the song 'Dixie' - a song that was written in the 1850's by a Northerner who allegedly collaborated with two black musicians to originate. This is a song admired by the President that abolished slavery.
On 10 April 1865, one day after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln addressed a White House crowd:
I propose now closing up by requesting you play a certain piece of music or a tune. I thought "Dixie" one of the best tunes I ever heard . . . I had heard that our adversaries over the way had attempted to appropriate it. I insisted yesterday that we had fairly captured it . . . I presented the question to the Attorney-General, and he gave his opinion that it is our lawful prize .
We should embrace this song. When we say that "the South will rise again" to me in current culture means that we've overcome this feudal past. We rise above all the hatred, close mindedness and energy wasted removing the traditions that are too often misconstrued. The close mindedness if you will.
Being from Texas, I once was asked by a Mississippian if we really ride horses everywhere. My response to show his ignorance was that I was really surprised that he as a Mississippian had running water, electricity and shoes on his feet. Perception and interpretation is what you make of things. If you want to see that Ole Miss stands for racial bigotry, a group of close minded people stuck in old ways holding a grudge against change, so be it. Yet you, my comrade, are the one that hasn't stepped foot on campus. You are the individual that deserves to taste the fresh air an campus that brings you to life. You should allow yourself to let the history ridden walls of the University talk to you. You have not experienced pride, tradition, and history. As hard as it may be to hear you should probably open your eyes to realize maybe you are the problem.
As with all aspects of life you can see the good and bad in everything. I choose to be open minded and educated on facts before I form an opinion. I'm the big picture type of person. We can always try to agree to disagree as hard as it may be.
Dixie might be taken away, briefly or for forever from future Ole Miss fans and alum but the tradition and pride is still in all of us. We won't be able to 'Look away!' from what we know and hold dear to our hearts, nor should we have to.